Rami Malek is on a winning streak. The actor, who nabbed the Golden Globe, SAG Award and BAFTA for his portrayal of rock god Freddie Mercury in the critically acclaimed Bohemian Rhapsody, is a favorite for this year’s Oscar.
And while the fake teeth and over-the-top glitzy wardrobe had Malek looking the part, actually tapping into Mercury’s larger-than-life persona and energetic performances required months of physical preparation.
While working with London-based movement coach and choreographer Polly Bennett to get the Mercury moves down, Malek also turned to NYC-based celebrity trainer Jay Cardiello (whose other clients include rapper 50 Cent and basketball star Kevin Love) to prepare not only his body but his mental state for the role of a lifetime.
“I worked with this great guy called Jay Cardiello,” Malek told GQ in a recent interview. “We were working in New York just to get my body in shape to do things that Freddie did day in and day out that I wasn’t quite used to. That guy was one flexible dude. It was intense training and stretching. Because everyday I was going to have to do take, after take, after take.”
PEOPLE recently caught up with Cardiello, who started working with Malek on the set of the actor’s hit show Mr. Robot, to learn more about the duo’s time training together.
“Rami is one of the most selfless entertainers that I’ve ever worked with,” Cardiello shares with PEOPLE. “The role was never about him. It was about a representation of Freddie and he focused everything around that: ‘I want to represent an icon,’ he would say. ‘I’m not an icon, I’m an actor.’”
Below, Cardiello details the pillars of his rock-star building workouts with the Oscar-nominated actor
Sleep Is Your Best Friend
Sleep sets the overall tone for the body, and has a huge impact on your mood, workout and appetite.
“If any of my clients don’t get sleep the night before, I tell them not to come to the gym the next day,” Cardiello maintains. “That’s a big thing for me. Sleep sets the hormone level balance in the body. It controls your appetite. People often ask me, ‘What’s the celebrity diet?’ My answer is always, ‘Sleep.’”
Set an Intention
When Cardiello collaborates with his clients, he begins a meditative part to each workout — a foundation which he considers integral to building a healthy lifestyle
“I lay out a mental road map with all my clients,” Cardiello shares. “Every time Malek came to a workout, I could tell if he was winning the day, because the mind frame that he set into the day. He always had gratitude, and he embodied that in the character.”
Cardiello maintains that the first eight minutes of your morning have the power to dictate your entire day, and suggests using this time to create a personal incantation and give gratitude.
“It can be as something as simple as repeating, ‘I Jay Cardiello will accomplish this by doing this,’” Cardiello shares. “All my workouts with my clients are very vocal. We talk more in the workout than we train. These motivational talks are all part of seeing a result in not only how you look, but how you feel.”
It’s Not All About Cardio
The foundation of Malek’s exercise routine with Cardiello was focused around proprioception training, which focuses on strengthening the loop between the body’s movement and the brain.
“Think about having to sing, dance, and staying on key without gasping for air,” Cardiello says. “A lot of the work we did was basically training the brain to fire more rapidly in order to make adjustments to the body’s position.”
Cardiello says Malek would often recite his lines as he was doing single-leg squats on an unstable surface to build that muscle memory.
“We did a lot of what we called unilateral training, where we train either the arm alone, or one leg alone so when it’s put in a position, you’re never gonna feel off-balance and you’re going to have that confidence,” he shares. “People think it’s all about joint stability and core strengthening, which it is, but it’s more about the brain telling the body that we have to stabilize under whatever situation we’re in. When my clients are on the road and away from me, I tell them put a pillow on the ground and do single-leg squats. Or to do push-ups on a mattress. Now you’re unstable.”
To get Malek in true Freddie Mercury shape, Cardiello also introduced more body weight flexibility and mobility training in accordance with proprioception training.
“I watched hours and hours of Freddie Mercury on stage. I studied his movements. I watched Live Aid over and over again and then I built the program. I based the exercises exactly on how he was moving. Sometimes, we would take a body bar, or the dumbbells and use them as a microphone. Malek would hold the body bar with two hands in a downward position, and do single-leg squats or use it as a press.”
Adds Cardiello: “When he went on stage, he was already embodying the character through our training. Everything you do has to replicate everything you do on stage. There has to be congruency or else the actor is not gonna have a rapport with character that they’re trying to fall into.”
Diet Starts with Hydration
Cardiello recommends all his clients drink half of their body weight in ounces of water every day.
“If you want to perform day in and day out, you have to be hydrated,” Cardiello advises. “People reach for coffee when they’re feeling tired, which is no-no. You need to reach for water. Malek was constantly drinking water throughout our workouts. We were creating the habits, so he knew that, ‘Hey, if I’m on set, first thing I do is grab some water.’ That was very imperative.”
Malek maintained a 3,500-calorie-a-day diet which consisted of a mix of lean proteins, fish and greens
“We were fueling the body for an anabolic growth state, as we trained the body like an athlete,” Cardiello says.
Workouts Can Be as Short as 15 Minutes
Due to Malek’s busy transatlantic schedule, some of his workouts with Cardiello were as short as 15 minutes.
“First we would set a quick intention for the practice and map out any nutrition concerns,” Cardiello said. “Then based on time based and his fatigue level, we either did balance training or heavy stretching to create mobility.”
Cardiello explained that most of the stretching was focused on shoulder and hip rotation.
“A lot of actors when they jump into the role of rock-and-roll people are very robotic, and they can’t move fluidly. These guys go on stage, and it’s like them playing basketball every night. We focused on those areas of the body that needed strength training and power.”
Cardiello’s book Bodyweight Strength Training is available now on Amazon. For more on his philosophy, check out his TEDx Talk “Diet and Exercise Makes You Fat” here.
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